Liminality is a seldom used but much needed word. It comes from the Latin word limina, which means threshold. The place of liminality is a crossover point, a threshold to step across, a door to go through. It involves the movement from one state of being to another- the movment from single life to marriage, for instance. That period of engagement is the threshold to marriage; steps have been taken away from being single toward marriage. The time of preparation, from the time that agreement is mutual to those moments before the marriage vows are completed, is liminal time.
Who’s there? asks Mary
The Angel Gabriel.
The Angel Gabriel who?
OK, you know the rest; but what happens between Gabriel’s *KnockKnock* and the acceptance of the Angel’s message by Mary, is liminal time. It is very much like the still point in dance- that moment when the dancer completes one movement and prepares, in stillness however briefly, for the next movement.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David… Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.
[liminality, liminality, liminality, liminality, liminality, liminality]
And Mary said,
Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.
“The Annunciation”, El Greco, about 1615
Mary had to agree for the contract being proposed by Gabriel, between her and God, to be completed; she had to take a step across the threshold. In doing so, she knew her life would never again be the same as it had been the day before. Liminal times demand decisions.
Our own liminal moments occur with incredible frequency. We are often moving across, through, and over thresholds that cause everything to become new. It’s not like we have to become pregnant with the Messiah, or even to get married for all things to become new (although both those things will do it!). We are often presented with opportunities (large and small) for education, for meetings with new people, the chance to visit new places, or to participate in new experiences. All of those events are filled with liminal possibilities. But they are not all opportunities or chances that are easily entered into. Many have curtains of fear- imagined and real- draped across them, and which must be crossed. People don’t go to school because they’re afraid they’ll run of money. People don’t get married because, “Who will take care of Mom and Dad?” People will stay at mundane, mind-deadening jobs, because they dare not risk losing a guaranteed paycheck. The dance for them, stops. The still point becomes a period, the end of a sentence that could have become a paragraph, even a chapter in an epic saga!
So, in liminal fog, a suspended animation, so many/ too many people choose to be safe. They stay where they are, though unhappy; they refuse to look beyond the fence, because the grass over here is good enough; and they miss the mysterious smorgasbord of Life in favor of the already familiar meat loaf special. They choose to miss being pregnant with Messiah. They choose to miss being part of all things becoming new.